Feature: Money not enough to win AFCON

Author: Ebo Kwaitoo
Ebo Kwaitoo
Ebo Kwaitoo

I believe no amount of money can deliver us the enviable Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy today or tomorrow.

That is why I am worried about the huge investment being made into the 'President's Special Initiative' -- The Year of Return.

The fact that officialdom is tight-lipped about the 2019 AFCON budget despite countless calls from the media clearly indicates that it is on a high side. Though there is a sense in not disclosing it before the tournament in order not to shift attention from the tournament itself, I know the day of reckoning will surely come sooner than later.

Last week I said I foresaw Ghana flying an unprecedented number of people to the Egypt 2019 AFCON, if what was witnessed at the Black Stars training camp in Dubai wad anything to go by.

We don't seem to learn as a nation. Sadly, this subject will be revisited, come rain or shine.

If my memory serves me right, the state started investing heavily in the Black Stars in the name of winning the fifth AFCON trophy since 2006, but till now there is nothing to show for it. I think that should be enough to tell us that it doesn't take fat appearance fees and winning bonuses to win the continental diadem.

I believe the Black Stars will win the trophy when we least expect them to do so. In the last two occasions when they came closest to winning the trophy at Angola 2010 and Equatorial Guinea 2015, they did so as underdogs. A similar drama seems to be playing out for Egypt 2019.

Currently, Ghana is still sixth in Africa, per the June FIFA ranking released on June 14, 2019. No wonder Ghana was not seeded at the recent AFCON draw held at the Pyramids in Cairo, but that could be a good omen for the Black Stars as they will go into the tournament without much pressure.

Again, the positive energy that carried the Stars to three successive FIFA World Cup between 2006 and 2014 appears to have returned to the team as is evidenced in the peace and unity in camp presently. However, the same cannot be said of the parasites and hangers-on around the team who often undermine the team's efforts.

Equally important for the team is the fact that there are no injury worries for now, which can bedevil Ghana's chances. When that demon visited the Stars camp at Egypt 2006, the end result was a harrowing first round exit which Ghanaians would want to forget in a hurry.

I remember how captain extraordinaire, Stephen Appiah, decided to risk his life and career by playing through the pain barrier with a swollen ankle just to help secure Ghana passage to the next stage. However, all that could not save the situation as the Stars lost 3-2 to Zimbabwe, then led by their legend, Peter Ndlovu.

Incidentally, the Ismailia Stadium, which turned out to be Ghana's Waterloo, is the same base where the Stars will begin their 2019 AFCON. Ironically, there is surviving member of that fiasco in the current team, save Asamoah Gyan who missed that tournament through injury.

In that respect, The Year of Return campaign has to begin with a mission to exorcise the 2006 Ismailia ghost first, followed by the ambition to break the jinx of a 37-year trophy drought.

If the outcome of the Stars' last friendly against Bafana Bafana of South Africa is anything to by, then Coach Kwesi Appiah can be said to be making a headway.  Though the goalless draw might not be a fanciful result, it inspires confidence from a team that seeks to achieve something for their nation. I have a funny feeling that the Stars will make a mark in Egypt, all things being equal.

Being a historic tournament of 24-nations instead of 16, coupled with the change in schedule from January-February to June-July, means this year's AFCON is a special one. Apart from being played in summer for the first time in the annals of the tournament, the expansion means the winner will have to play an additional match, making it even more difficult for any team to win the trophy.

However, one thing is certain; only one team will lift the enviable trophy with $4.5 million to boot in Cairo on July 19, 2019. And as a full-blooded Ghanaian, my joy will be complete if the Black Stars is on the winning side.

Go for it, Mayele!